Iain Reid talks about aging in his novel ‘We Spread’

An open book

The novel We Spread explores ideas about aging and living in a long-term care facility and it’s told through the perspective of an elderly woman named Penny. The author discussed the book during his presentation for York’s acclaimed Canadian Writers in Person series.

Cover of We Spread by Ian Reid
Cover of We Spread by Ian Reid

Iain Reid, author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2016) and Foe (2018), as well as two memoirs, One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Over-educated, Underemployed Twentysomething Who Moves Back Home (2010) and The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on my Road Trip with Grandma (2013) visited the Canadian Writers in Person series at York on Jan. 17 to talk about his latest novel, We Spread.

“Something has to come to me that feels exciting, it can be a character or an image, but it has to be exciting,” said Reid as he spoke about starting work on a new project.

We Spread was inspired by his grandmother’s experience going into a long-term care facility. He got this idea to write about an older woman named Penny who was an artist and who was having to experience this adjustment in life.

“I think I really used my grandma as guide or inspiration in this case, more so than I realized. Really her whole demeanor while she was living in long-term care was so impressive to me,” said Reid. “It was the opposite of fearful, the opposite of gloomy or bleak, and I think that’s why I wanted to explore these ideas of [old age] not being just something to fear, or move away from, or be disgusted by. It’s actually beautiful in many ways, for many reasons.”

He thought about the cultural forces that shape this stage of elderly life in our society. “The more I thought of it, the more I realized that we are conditioned to fear it and not think about it in a variety of different ways and to understand the aspects of that stage of life that we should be welcoming and that we should embrace and value. And that got me thinking about ideas of extending life unnaturally and ideas of immortality that are sometimes presented as something that people want. And that started to scare me,” said Reid.

We Spread explores ideas about aging and living in a long-term care facility through the perspective of an elderly woman named Penny, who is experiencing some cognitive decline. Reid leads us on a journey into her mind, her fears, her regrets, her joy and her relationships (old and new). Readers are left to decide how they want to navigate and interpret Penny’s world.

“The books that I love to pick up are those where I feel I’m part of it, I’m making little discoveries the way that the author does when they’re working on it,” said Reid, “and then it feels like a discussion between the reader and the author. I hope that this is the case with We Spread.”